Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

First-party data guide – preparing for a cookieless world

By Katie White, Paid Media Director at GA Agency

Cookies were introduced around 30 years ago and have become an established part of the internet. But holding the potential to open internet users to a range of security concerns, their days are now numbered. This is why first-party data needs to become a priority for all digital agencies.

What is first-party data?

First-party data refers to the information that businesses collect directly from customers through their own digital infrastructure. It can include personal information, customer behaviour, demographics, interaction, and customer feedback data, and it can be gathered through a range of touchpoints, from web forms, apps, and site analytics to customer surveys and in-store visits.

It differs from third-party data (which is usually associated with cookies) because it requires direct customer consent, is only used by the business that it was gathered on behalf of, and it carries no privacy, accuracy, or reliability concerns. This is why first-party data is now viewed as a superior alternative to third-party data.

What are the benefits of collecting first-party data?

For the last 20 years or so, marketing agencies have relied upon a range of data sources. Partly because first-party data has been time-consuming to collate and manage, and partly because cookies have become so ubiquitous, making them an easy compromise. But with contemporary technology, first-party data is now easier to access, and it carries a range of advantages.

Flexibility, relevance, personalisation, and customer relationship management

First-party data grants both flexibility and relevance because it offers more control over what information is being collected, ensuring that datasets always match the needs of the business they are working with. Through increased relevancy, it carries the potential to improve personalisation for customers – by helping clients to see exactly what their customers are looking for, and how they respond to the content provided. This in turn helps businesses to build better relationships with customers, and create products and services better suited to customer’s needs.

Competitive advantage

Through this ability to tailor products and services to customer demands and expectations, businesses can unlock their true market potential. Increasing not only customer satisfaction but also competitiveness and market share. This enhances the value of first-party data to the business, by supporting continued custom.


Of equal importance is the matter of compliance. Whether it’s the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or other legislation, businesses and agencies are under increasing pressure to protect their customer’s data and privacy. The use of first-party data facilitates complete compliance, enabling adherence to best-practice data management at all stages.

Accuracy, cost-effectiveness, and futureproofing

Third-party data isn’t only known for being less accurate, but it is also becoming increasingly expensive. This means that businesses are often paying more than they should for substandard information. This can lead to the creation of ineffective marketing strategies based on flawed data. First-party data removes this risk, enabling the provision of better service and better value for clients. While the initial implementation of first-party data-gathering infrastructure may require some investment, it places marketing agencies in a stronger position overall, allowing them to tailor their data collection to form a comprehensive picture of their client’s audience, reduce mid-to-longer term costs, and drive accurate data-led decision-making. Whether for targeted or contextual advertising, content marketing, customer acquisition and retention, or value-based bidding strategies.

How can digital agencies create a first-party data strategy?

There are four key stages to building a first-party data strategy.

Intention and data source identification – Before you can collect useful data, you need to understand what will be of benefit to your clients. So, do you want customer behaviours, preferences, demographics? How will that data support your marketing efforts and the wider business? How will you use it for your clients?

Data collection and storage – What will be the best means of gathering the data you’ve identified? Data management platforms (DMPs) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems can work well for many businesses, enabling the integration of data gathering within current workflow systems. However, you need to ensure that you have the right storage, security, and accessibility.

Data analysis – Having data is great, but it’s only valuable if you can use it to fully benefit your clients. So, how will you analyse the data you’ve gathered? How will you detect patterns, identify trends, and gain insights? Having software that can help you to visualise that data can be invaluable to the process.

Understanding limitations – First-party data collection contains endless potential, but it’s only valuable if it’s accurate, complete, reliable, and current. If data quality is poor, or there is no way of validation, it may carry little worth.

Third-party data cookies are expected to be phased out by the middle of 2024. If you want your agency to stay ahead of the game, first-party data strategy creation is going to be integral. Enabling a seamless transfer into the new era of technology, while powering incomparable data-driven marketing.